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Biden's Experience, Buttigieg's Youth Highlight Key Question Facing N.H. Primary Voters

Dan Tuohy for NHPR
Pete Buttigieg campaigns at an American Legion post in Manchester, New Hampshire on August 23rd.

Change versus restoration: it’s a key question, maybe the key question, facing Democrats as they ready themselves to pick a nominee to challenge President Trump.

That question was on the minds of many voters in New Hampshire this weekend as they welcomed a half dozen candidates, including two who put that question in stark relief: the most experienced Democrat running, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the youngest Democrat in the race, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR
Joe Biden talks to New Hampshire voters at Dartmouth College

If you talk to Democratic voters, regardless of ideological cast, they’ll tell you their top priority is choosing a nominee capable of defeating President Trump. As Willit Mason stood in line in Hanover Friday awaiting an appearance by Biden, he said he thinks the former vice president might be the only candidate who fits that bill - but he still has a very specific worry.

"No I'm not settled. I am concerned that he's on the old side. But I'm old too. So he's experienced," Mason said.

For every Democrat still in the running, that sentiment is both a challenge and an opportunity.

For Allison Lantagne, who came out to hear Buttigieg speak in Nashua Friday night, sharing life experiences with a potential president is crucial. In Lantagne's case, it was the fact that Buttigieg still has thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

“I’m going to have student loan debt when I graduate," Lantagne said. "Joe Biden doesn’t have student debt. There are functions of age that create differences and I see more of myself reflected in Mayor Pete because he’s younger.”

But age and experience are only part of the equation.

Retired college professor Diana Fiege also attended a Buttigeig event this weekend, this one in Manchester. She’s undecided, and she expects to remain that way right until she casts her ballot.

“For me, the elephant in the room right now is the tension between do we vote for the one we think can win, or do we vote for the one that in our heart of heart that we truly, truly believe in?" she said. "I haven’t resolved that tension. But if we have learned anything in the past few years is that we are in a desperate situation right now, as a nation."

And for Democratic voters - and candidates - that sense of urgency is only likely to intensify between and primary day.


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